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Give Them Liberties ... 

More Louisiana legislators this year agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on issues ranging from Bible study in schools to insurance coverage for contraceptives, according to the ACLU's recently released 2001 legislative scorecard.

The ACLU issues scorecards every other legislative session, when lawmakers vote on non-budget bills. The 2001 survey measures how lawmakers voted on 14 bills on which the ACLU took a position. It indicates that during this go-round, 43 percent of House members and 48 percent of senators -- a combined 44 percent -- voted with the ACLU. That's compared to the 1999 average of 9 percent for both houses.

"I think the extreme religious right wing lost some of its clout," says ACLU executive director Joe Cook. "Another reason we did better this year was that it's an election year."

One House member and four senators voted with the ACLU on all 14 bills, while three representatives and six Senate members ranked 0 percent.

Some express surprise at their rankings. Sen. Diane Bajoie, D-New Orleans, says she had "no idea" she had scored a 100 percent rating.

"I don't always agree with [the ACLU's] positions, but I did think they had some good issues this session," she says. "Most of these issues I've always supported."

Sen. Art Lentini, a Kenner Republican, says that he's not bothered by his 0 percent ranking. "It just depends on what issues you use," Lentini says. "My first term, the guy that sat behind me was a minister -- Rev. [B.G.] Dyess (D-Alexandria). The Christian Coalition did a similar type of survey, and Rev. Dyess got, like, a 50 percent rating."

Lentini points out that lawmakers will often vote against a bill if they disagree with amendments or riders to it, and not necessarily its main objective. "You could vote for or against something that's outside the actual guts of the bill," he says.

Among the issues the ACLU surveyed included bills to decriminalize Louisiana's sodomy law; to ban discrimination against homosexuals in the workforce; to require the posting of "In God We Trust" signs in public schools; and to review and/or repeal mandatory minimum sentences for most non-violent crimes.

"We've made some progress, but we still have a long way to go," says Cook. "The majority still have a failing grade."

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